How to listen to someone effectively
3 key takeaways from I Hear You
- Validation is a powerful technique to make your conversations more effective and meaningful
- Validation is when you listen to someone, identify the main emotion present in what they’ve said, and then justify why they feel that way
- The Four-Step Validation Method includes listening empathically, validating the emotion, offering advice or encouragement if appropriate, and validating the emotion again
I Hear You is a short and simple book by Michael S. Sorenson about validation, which is the “act of helping someone feel heard and understood”.
The key concept in I Hear You is that we often don’t properly listen to our friends, family, coworkers or others. We’re also often too quick to give our advice or opinions without thinking if the person wants them. Validation is a simple way to overcome these issues to have more meaningful conversations
At its most basic level, validation includes listening to someone, identifying the primary emotion behind what they’re saying, and offering justification for this emotion. Sorenson gives a simple framework called the Four-Step Validation Method to help readers give validation.
According to I Hear You, validation is an important ingredient of any relationship, and can help you:
- Calm others during difficult times
- Support and encourage others
- Boost the happiness of others
- More easily show love
- Promote trust between yourself and others
- Avoid or diffuse arguments
- Give advice
- Become more likeable
The Four-Step Validation Method
The Four-Step Validation Method in I Hear You outlines how to properly validate someone. The steps are:
- Listen empathically to the person
- Validate their emotions in your response
- Identify the primary emotion
- Justify their reason for feeling this emotion
- Offer advice and encouragement (only if appropriate)
- Validate the emotion again
It’s easiest to explain the basics of validation with an example. Imagine a friend starts telling you about an issue at work:
“I’m so angry at my boss. He’s given me three extra projects to finish by the end of the month, and didn’t even offer to help with the increased workload.”
When validating, you’ll listen to your friend, and then identify the emotions underneath what they’ve said. In this case, your friend is feeling angry and worried about the mountain of work they need to complete and the lack of support they’ve received.
Once your friend has completed venting, you can then respond with some validation recognising these emotions and justifying why these emotions are present:
“That sucks! I would be angry too. You’re already short staffed and now you have even more to worry about.”
You could then go on and offer advice if appropriate, and re-validate again.
The Four-Step Validation Method in more detail
Step 1: Listen empathically
Empathic listening refers to when you listen to what someone is saying but look beyond their words to the underpinning emotions. At this point you are listening without distractions, not giving any suggestions or advice, and are being observant.
Step 2: Validate
Wait for the person to finish telling you their problem, concern or achievement. Then validate them by mentioning their emotion and justifying the reason why they’re feeling this emotion.
Validation can also be used during disagreements. You can still validate someone’s emotions without agreeing with them.
Step 3: Offer advice if appropriate
Usually when someone talks from an emotional perspective, we’re very quick to try to offer unsolicited advice to try and help them. This can sometimes cause frustration and defensiveness in the person receiving the advice.
I Hear You encourages us to avoid offering unsolicited advice and instead try different approaches to ask if the person wants advice to begin with. Sorenson’s examples include:
- “How can I help?”
- “I have a few thoughts on this, can I share them?”
Step 4: Revalidate
Once you’ve listened, validated and offered advice if appropriate, Sorenson advises readers to close the loop by re-validating.
This is simply rephrasing the earlier validation of emotion to let the other person know you’ve understood what they’ve been talking about.
Avoid invalidating responses
Another key message of I Hear You is to avoid invalidating responses. An invalidating response is when someone responds to our problems, venting or frustrations with phrases like “You’ll be fine” or “Don’t worry, it’ll all sort itself out.” These responses in essence tell the person that they’re wrong to feel their emotions, when these emotions are a normal part of life.
Sorenson gives a great example showing the difference between validating and invalidating responses. After his parents struggled for some time to have a child, they received a range of validating and invalidating responses from those they spoke with:
|Invalidating responses||Validating responses|
|“I’m sure it’ll happen eventually”||“I’m so sorry. I can’t even imagine how hard that must be.”|
|“I wouldn’t worry about it too much. It’ll all work out if it’s supposed to”||“Ah, that’s so hard. I’m sorry. How are you feeling?”|
As you can see, the validating responses show the person was actually listening and identified with the couple’s problems trying to have a child. The invalidating responses didn’t do much to identify with the feelings of frustration a couple would have in this situation.
Validation isn’t used in all aspects of a conversation, especially when the conversation is factual. It’s great when someone is saying something that shows emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger or worry.
I Hear You is an interesting book, and I have found the validation method useful in improving my connection with others. It’s also a short book, which is perfect because the Sorenson’s message is simple and doesn’t need any filler to get the point across.
I recommend it to anyone looking for a simple way to improve their conversations and listening.